Alchemical and Topological Media

Prof. Sha Xin Wei


Course Description:

As micro-cameras, sensors, and active, luminous materials become ubiquitous, the space itself between us becomes a sensate and kinetic tissue that extends our expressive bodies.  In this graduate seminar, we explore the emergence of bodies, objects or events in fields of active matter.   We look critically at the technologies of performance vs. technologies of representation.   We explore poetically how continuous, topological transformations could act as diffuse agencies on living matter.  The seminar introduces graduate and advanced undergraduate students to art research via computational media and experimental technologies of performance.   It is designed to  introduce the research questions and approaches that motivate the Topological Media Lab's work in responsive media and installations constructed as phenomenological experiments.

Students will present critical readings in philosophy, art, performance, and computer science in class.  In studio-laboratory, students have an opportunity to make tangible media or responsive installations in small groups.  Students are expected to be already versed in some medium or media, and be prepared to (1) write short essays about theoretical research questions, and / or (2) work with real-time, responsive video, sound, or kinetic media (e.g. Max / Jitter or MSP) to create experimental installation-events.

Students may treat this as an advanced installation course synthesizing approaches from experimental performance, computational media, movement, sound and materials arts. It is mandatory for students intending to do art research affiliated with the Topological Media Lab.

This course welcomes graduate students in humanities as well as fine arts and engineering sciences.


A prior course in philosophy and art is recommended but not required.    Students must commit to engage with challenging texts. If you have not encountered this material before, it may be rewarding to read Gendlin's Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, before the start of the semester, to orient yourself before entering the seminar.

This course will be oriented to PhD and MFA students, and welcomes advanced undergraduates.  Prior experience can include any area, such as video, performance and theater, sculpture, realtime video and sound; wireless sensors; computational physics; and architecture, etc.


Readings will be selected from the associated list of references.   You may suggest other relevant readings and present them after discussing them ahead of time with me.

Provisional Syllabus

The calendar is arranged into chapters with strands of readings and exercises as studies or responses inspired by the readings and the current themes.



In every session we will discuss the current themes and readings, and one or two students will present work.

Midterm Meal. (Previous events 2005, 2006)

Term Project: You will write a 15 page research paper and, optionally create an installation-event, using any responsive media that you know or learn during the term, that respond to the themes of the seminar. The paper should aspire to the level of writing expected for a journal such as Configurations or The Grey Room. • x 5949•